She was in the midst of this process, dutifully ironing, while she watched the funeral procession of John F. Kennedy on television. Then it hit her. Why was she doing this? No one besides her husband was ever going to see these pillow cases, and they were just going to sleep on them. Life was too short to do stupid things just because someone says it's the right way.
That story has stuck with me for many years. I have a programmed desire to do things the "right" way, which curiously enough, is often the most difficult way. I have to revisit this lady's story from time to time to remind myself that life is short, and we're not graded on the difficulty of the things we attempt. Sometimes just attempting is good enough.
Case in point: puff pastry. Danish pastries were one of those mystery items that I thought could only be purchased in a store, like Jello or sausages. But then I saw a recipe for Easy Cheese Danishes in Barefoot Contessa at Home. Note the alluring use of the word "easy"? When is saw that I paused, rather than flipping past, dismissing the recipe as one obviously out of my league. The secret behind the magic word was frozen puff pastry.
I bought some. I made the pastries. My family raved. I felt fabulous. I'd made cream cheese danishes! Maybe some day I'll attempt the real deal, but in the meantime, I have my back-up in the freezer.
If you'd like to make puff pastry the "right" way, the fabulous Fanny at Foodbeam has done a gorgeous how-to write up on Puff Pastry. But if you're short on time, pulled in 15 directions all day long, and just want a weekend treat that will make your family squeal for joy, just go with the frozen stuff. I promise, no one's grading you except yourself.
Easy Strawberry Cheese Danishes
- adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 Tbsp ricotta cheese
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest (about 2 lemons' worth)
1 cup strawberries cut into small chunks
2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp of water for egg wash
Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream them together on low speed until smooth. Add 2/3 cup of the strawberry chunks and blend. The mixture will be a pretty pink. With the mixer still on low, add the egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt, lemon zest, and the remaining 1/3 of the strawberry chunks and mix until just combined. Don't whip!
Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it's a 10 x 10- inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. Place a heaping Tbsp of cheese filling into the middle of each of the 4 squares. Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold two opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they stick firmly together.
Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash. Place the pastries on the prepared sheet pans. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry and refrigerate the filled pastries for 15 minutes.
While the pastries are chilling, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, with the racks positioned in the upper third and lower third of the oven.
Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes, rotating the pans top to bottom and front to back once during baking. The finished pastries should be puffed and brown. Serve warm. Makes 8 pastries.